Epidemic Response

The Legacy of Colonialism


Jennifer Dohrn and Eleanor Stein

As we head into year two of the coronavirus pandemic, we ourselves are haunted by the spectre of the social dimension of what looks on and media—like a medical or health crisis. In reality, it is only a medical crisis on one level. The COVID-19 pandemic is at its root a crisis of globalisation, a crisis of racial capitalism, a crisis of colonialism, a crisis of the social organisation of our public health system. It is a crisis of treatment and care versus demonisation and wall building. And it is the latest pandemic in a long line of modern ones—from SARS to swine flu to HIV to Ebola—a predictable and predicted outcome, not the mysterious unforeseeable lightning strike as it is often portrayed. The United States has reaped the results of market fundamentalism and the neoliberal wars on government and public space, when hospitals in the richest cities in the world proved incapable of treating the tidal waves of COVID-19 sufferers or even handling the dead with dignity. No one living through COVID-19 in the United States can be unaware of the social construct of its toll: infections and deaths among populations of color nearly double that of white people. Indigenous people account for more than double (2.3 times) the number of deaths. Whites in the United States have two to three times the vaccination rates of people of color, and still have far greater access to vaccines. Of those who have been vaccinated so far, two-thirds are white and only 2 percent are Black people.

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